Terrence O’Brien, who was present at the creation of Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and served as its artistic director for all of its 27 years, will step down at year’s end, the festival announced Monday.
Robin Shelby Arditi, president of the festival’s board, made the announcement via a press release.
In the release, O’Brien said: “It has become clear to me that for HVSF to move into the next stage of its growth, the festival will need someone at the helm who is not only a talented artistic leader but can also make a substantial commitment to its fund development and long-range financial planning activities.
“My passion is for directing and helping to evolve the work of actors and directors. And, while I love doing Shakespeare plays and am proud of what I’ve accomplished at HVSF, I think it’s important that I also explore material that falls outside the scope of what we’ve traditionally presented.”
Under O’Brien’s leadership, the festival has become nationally known as a venue where the focus is on the text, the actor and the audience, with few props and no scenery. Festival productions have won raves from the major New York critics and have been seen by nearly a half-million theatergoers, Arditi said.
The festival, started informally in a field at Garrison’s Manitoga property, has grown to a year-round enterprise, with an educational program taking the Bard into schools across the tri-state area and teaching teachers to teach Shakespeare. The festival employs nearly 200 people each year and has an operating budget of nearly $3 million.
O’Brien established a company of regular players whose return to the Lower Hudson Valley is as anticipated by festival-goers as that first chin-drenching summer peach. Patrons have made a trip to Boscobel, with elaborate pre-show picnics, a summer ritual.
“None of this growth would have been possible without Terry’s exceptional imagination, determination, and restless pursuit of excellence,” Arditi said. A national search for a full-time artistic director will begin soon. The 2014 season begins June 10. It marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.
The festival’s 27th season included “King Lear,” directed by O’Brien, “The Three Musketeers,” directed by associate artistic director Christopher V. Edwards, and “All’s Well That Ends Well,” directed by Russell Treyz.
Maggie Whitlum-Cooper joined the festival as executive director on May 19, 2011.
O’Brien’s work for the festival is not over. He has directed (and adapted) the year’s final productions, a staged reading of “An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe” starring Jason O’Connell, and the festival’s fifth annual presentation of “A Christmas Carol.” For details, go to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival website.
“We were sorry to learn of Terry’s decision.” said Ms. Arditi. “Terry is an inspired director and creative genius, who has established a strong artistic tradition of presenting Shakespeare and other classics in a freewheeling, clear, accessible, and distinctly American style. Terry’s unique American approach to Shakespeare and theater in general will be a lasting legacy, one that the Festival’s company will strive to nurture and build upon. He will retain the title of Founding Artistic Director.”
Photos: Top, by Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News: Terrence O’Brien talks about “King Lear.” Bottom, by William Marsh: Jessica Frey is Cordelia and Stephen Paul Johnson is Lear.